Women looking to enjoy a cup of tea with the men in their lives immediately appreciate the Asian-inspired ZenCha Tea Salon in Columbus’ hip Short North district. After all, the sleek and modern salon is a far cry from the stereotypical, flower-and-lace-festooned space that most people envision –– meaning a guy can actually walk in with his head held high.
That inclusive atmosphere is paired with an offering of teas that puts to shame any of the bagged stuff stocked at the average supermarket. The six-panel, double-sided menu lists a whopping 102 varieties categorized by country of origin, including black, white, green, oolong and tisanes (the correct term for beverages made by steeping anything other than the tea plant). There are even a selection of the popular “bubble teas”: a multicultural product made by shaking a tea with milk, sugar and/or flavored syrup and ice, then strained and served in a 24-ounce cup containing a heaping spoonful of tapioca “pearls” that are the consistency of gummy bears.
Fortunately, the task of choosing from the impressive list is simplified by “tea ambassadors,” black-uniformed servers who suggest brews the way that sommeliers recommend wines for multiple courses.
Our “tea ambassador” seated us at a table for two and immediately returned with samples of the featured tea of the day: Kyoto Cherry Blossom, an aromatic green tea so generously infused with its namesake fruit that I could actually smell it before the little plastic cup was underneath my nose. I immediately
ordered a pot to accompany my maple pear salad –– a d’anjou pear baked in red wine and maple syrup, served with a side of baby greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, and topped by sliced tomatoes and crumbled blue cheese. “If you’d like a sweetener, you might want to try honey,” the tea ambassador advised. But when my friend ordered the same thing to drink with his Chinese chicken dumplings, the ambassador diplomatically steered him toward something spicier, a cardamom-ginger black tea popular in Turkey and Pakistan.
We soon discovered another of ZenCha’s charms: Teas are served in the pots and cups of their original culture. My Kyoto Cherry Blossom arrived in what resembled a miniature glass pan, complete with lid and strainer fitted inside –– the traditional Japanese teapot, according to salon co-owner I-Cheng Huang –– and a pair of handmade ceramic tea bowls.
Depending on the day, the salon’s meals are just as decadent as its tea service. Exotic pancake-and-waffle creations make ZenCha a favorite for weekend brunches (think chocolate waffles and savory Japanese-style pancakes made with shitake mushrooms, onion and cabbage and topped by grilled chicken or seafood). According to Huang, an expanded offering of tea-infused items will be unveiled this spring; expect to see delectable bisques in such flavors as chai-spiced butternut-squash, and green-tea-and-strawberry-cream. And those who’ve tired of finger sandwiches and cookies will have an opportunity to try the Asian version: dim sum, sushi rolls and Asian sweets –– most made with chestnuts, sweet beans and mochi –– presented in a traditional bento box. 982 N. High St., Columbus, 614/421-2140. www.zen-cha.com